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Interviews, Nerve ♦ July 28, 2016

‘Nerve’ Actress Emily Meade Talks Social Media and Her Own Worst Fears

The rising actress stars in a new film that highlights the price of fame in a world where social media rules all

In the culturally topical teen thriller Nerve, a viral video game of the same name greets every new user with the question: Are you a watcher or a player?  Selecting “player” leads to prize money and potential Insta-fame, in exchange for performing live-streamed dares that would make even the most decorated Pokémon Go trainers look like wallflowers. In the film, Emily Meade (The Leftovers) plays Sydney, the best frenemy opposite Emma Roberts’s Vee, and a high-ranking player who vies to break the internet in a series of increasingly death-defying acts. But while her character has an insatiable thirst for followers, Meade breaks the watcher/player binary IRL:

“Before the film, I didn’t even have an Instagram,” she told us. “I was like a completely anti-Internet pagan. Everyone would try to explain to me why it’s an important piece of [the industry]. I was like, ‘No, no, no. I’m going to do it the old-fashioned way. I refuse.’”

Despite her ambivalence toward social media, Meade said the film isn’t necessarily a cautionary tale. “It’s not an after-school special. It also shows that you can’t really impact [the problems with social media] if you’re just abstaining from it. You have to join the conversation.”

If in any way an Internet-age parable, the film is just as much a retrospective on internet culture, featuring appearances by @thefatjewish and @chloewise_, as well as a cameo by the erstwhile iMac G3 as a Hal-like villain. “That was the first computer that we had in my house!” said Meade, likely echoing the memories of many a ’90s child. “We had the blue one.”

While everything from film to fashion seems bent on the ’90s lately, Meade thinks this heralds a new, younger generation of creators rather than a nostalgic trend. “[Nerve Directors] Henry [Joost] and Ariel [Schulman] are ’90s children, as am I, so I think no matter what, that time period has a huge impact. I’m still stuck in the ’90s in a lot of ways.  And I naturally bring that vibe to Sydney because I grew up watching that version of that girl.”

With her droll, pouting delivery, Meade’s Sydney (aka @syd_baby_xo) perfectly embodies the bad-girl-with-a-body-count archetype (see: Rose McGowan’s Courtney in Jawbreaker or Winona Ryder’s Veronica in Heathers), finally answering the question, what if “that girl” had used a smartphone? In the case of Sydney, she ends up precariously balancing on a ladder slung between two 10th-floor apartment windows as part of a dare, a stunt Meade performed herself.

“I don’t like heights, so [that] was pretty horrifying. We were actually three stories up, but we’re pretty much doing what you see. Obviously, we had the harness so no matter what we wouldn’t die.”

This act of fearlessness aptly symbolizes Meade’s rising star. In her turn as Sydney, Meade proves she’s tough enough to confront anything Hollywood throws her way—except, maybe, rats. When asked about her biggest fear, Meade didn’t hesitate: “I’m clinically afraid [of them]. And it’s something I’ve always thought about because you see plenty of movies where actors have to interact with rats in some way. So I’m like, ‘I’m going to have to do that some day, aren’t I?’”

Lucky for Meade, the thrills served up in Nerve­—in theaters, today—are 100% vermin-free.

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